Category: Hazards and Threats


The Sleepy Hollow fire near the north-central Washington State city of Wenatchee started in the afternoon of June 28, 2015. The cause is unknown but natural causes have been ruled out, leaving intentional or accidental human-origin causes to blame. Unseasonably high temperatures, early drought conditions, and high fuel loads have elevated fire risk in the area much earlier in the summer than normal. The fire started outside the city, but wind drove it into residential areas of this city of 33,000. Hundreds of residents were evacuated. It has burned 2950 acres and has destroyed 29 primary residences. Embers blew into the commercial business district and subsequent fires destroyed four businesses; some were large agricultural processing or storage warehouses, raising concerns about hazardous material involvement. Those areas have been secured and hazardous materials contained.

The Chelan WA County Commissioners have issued an emergency declaration of the area as a high danger area, banning all outdoor burning and the use of fireworks. Some roads are restricted to local resident and emergency use only. The evacuation center has been moved from a high school to a church.  The BNSF rail line (a major NW transportation corridor) was closed but has been re-opened.

The number of firefighting personnel involved with this fire is 336; they are primarily volunteers. They have incurred a few injuries including heat exhaustion; no injuries to the public have been reported. With limited numbers of firefighters available, four days of firefighting already, and new fires reported in the area, firefighting personnel is stretched to the limit. With the Sleepy Hollow fire 47% contained as of the evening of June 30 evening, some are being re-deployed to other emerging fire situations.

The majority of efforts have switched from response to recovery, assisting those who have lost their homes and businesses. A local footwear business is offering free shoes to all fire victims. A fruit packing business offered its facilities to a competitor whose fruit packing facility was destroyed, thereby helping the business continue operating during fruit harvest season. These responses demonstrate that even during periods of drought and wildfires, human hearts can contain bottomless wellsprings of compassion and hope.

–Submitted by Susan Kerr, WA State EDEN Delegate

 


Tropical Storm Ana earlier this month aside, June 1st marks the beginning of the “official” Atlantic Hurricane season. So what can we expect this year? Exact predictions are always iffy, but noted expert Dr. William Gray and his colleague Philip Klotzbach, both of Colorado State University, predict 7 named storms, three hurricanes and one major hurricane. If true, this would be one of the quietest hurricane seasons in the last 60-years. The long term average is for 12 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes. Some recent years have seen in excess of 20 named storms.

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NOAA

Why the smaller numbers? One factor is the development of a strong El Nino in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Historically, El Nino years have fewer hurricanes along with other effects. The Weather Channel has created a nice page and video explaining this.

It is extremely important to note, however, that it only takes one major landfalling hurricane to cause vast damage and many casualties. Just because the long range hurricane forecast seems to be encouraging, we’re not out of the woods.

Hurricane-Sandy-stormsurgediagramIn preparation for the 2015 hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center is unveiling a new system of communicating storm surge threats and vulnerabilities. As has been seen over and over, some of the most devastating damage from hurricanes is not always from strong winds but from storm surge, the wall of water that is pushed out in advance of the center of the hurricane.

20121106-hurricane-sandy-new-jersey-shore.jpg.662x0_q100_crop-scale Hurricane Sandy is one of the more recent demonstrations of this mighty force.

This week, May 24-30, is national Hurricane Preparedness Week.  For those of you who have a role educating others about hurricanes here’s a link to FEMA’s toolkit.   And here is material from the National Hurricane Center/NOAA.

 

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National Dam Safety Awareness Day is May 31st. That date is the anniversary of the failure of the South Fork Dam which resulted in the infamous Johnstown (PA) flood. More than 2,200 lives were lost in what is considered the worst dam failure in the history of the United States according to FEMA.

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Missouri Institute of Science and Technology

The National Dam Safety Program is led by FEMA and a partnership of states, federal agencies and other stakeholders. Dams are part of an aging infrastructure and continued attention is vital in averting future catastrophic failures.


NOAA’s Climate Center has issued its 2015 Spring Outlook covering flood potential, precipitation, temperature and drought through the April-June period. The flood outlook is for mid-March to Mid-May.

FloodRiskOutlook_2015_610

NOAA Climate Center

According to the outlook, the greatest potential for Spring flooding is in the Northeast along with a portion of the lower Missouri River and other nearby rivers and streams in parts of southern Illinois, southwest Indiana and far northern Kentucky. The near term potential is being driven by snow melt. That melt will also influence the somewhat longer term in that soil moisture will be above average to far above average in those areas.

NOAA Climate Center

NOAA Climate Center

As for temperatures, much of the eastern two-thirds of the nation will experience near-normal temperatures with the West Coast being much above normal. Only portions of Texas and New Mexico are forecast to be below normal.

The outlook calls for above-normal precipitation in the Southeast and the Four-corners area with below normal precipitation in the Pacific Northwest and parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. The rest of the country will be near normal.

NOAA Climate Center

NOAA Climate Center

Drought conditions will continue or worsen in much of the western third of the country and drought may also spread from Minnesota into Wisconsin.  The drought will improve in eastern New Mexico and Oklahoma.  40% of California is already in an exceptional drought and the predicted hot temperatures and lack of precipitation will exacerbate that situation.

The precipitation and drought outlooks bode ill for the upcoming fire season.

As always, the long term outlook comes with a caveat that specific weather systems can always cause additional flooding and other impacts so readers should always stay alert.


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This week has been designated Flood Awareness Week by the National Weather Service. Each year flooding is responsible for the deaths of dozens of people in the United States and thousands worldwide.

2014 was a relatively safe year in the United States because of a lack of tropical storms and hurricanes, yet 41 people were killed by flooding. We’ve all heard the phrase “Turn around, Don’t drown!” That is well-taken advice because of the 41 fatalities last year, 27 were in vehicles. Just a few inches of water can sweep a car away. Never drive into a flooded area.Slideshow1 Even if you think you know the street or highway well, it is possible some of the pavement was washed away by the tremendous force of flood waters. Driving into water at night and during other periods of low visibility such as heavy rain is especially dangerous.

We’ll talk about preparation and recovery in later posts, but this awareness week is a good time to talk about protecting lives. The 2014 fatalities were fairly evenly split between areas east and west of the Mississippi River. More males than females died and Texas’ six fatalities were the most of any state. In the first two months of 2015, five people have been killed by flooding.

The National Weather Service has a robust flood safety web site.

There are three major types of flooding…flash floods, river floods and coastal floods. All cause fatalities each year and it would be difficult to consider one more dangerous than another, although, by its very nature, flash flooding can catch its victims unaware. The National Weather Service issues advisories, watches and warnings for each of the types.
During this time of year, river flooding is common and while it is usually well forecast and expected, the force of that flooding needs to be respected. River status maps such as the one below and forecast maps are available through the Weather Service.Clip1These maps are also part of a suite of tools available as part of the Next48 project of the Extension Disaster Education Network which was created by Tom Priddy and colleagues at the University of Kentucky.. You can customize the maps you want to see in your state by visiting the Next48 web site.

There are also special considerations for people living downstream from known hazards such as large dams and other types of impoundments. Be aware of these threats and know how local authorities intend to issue warnings should a dangerous situation occur.

There have been many tragic incidents over the years where campers and cabin dwellers have been washed away by flash flooding. Never camp in unapproved areas. It is tempting to set up camp along a river or stream. If you do, be aware of weather upstream that might cause a rapid rise in water levels. Have an exit strategy. Plan how to get to higher ground in a hurry. If authorities order an urgent evacuation, leave your belongings behind and leave immediately.

Slideshow2Floods are a known and common threat. With a little common sense and advance planning, you can avoid becoming a number in the 2015 statistics.

 


This is Severe Weather Preparedness Week in several states. Others may have just observed the week and still others may be doing so soon. Over the next several posts, we’ll cover several topics related to severe weather in greater depth.

NOAA

NOAA

As outdoor baseball and soccer practice, along other activities such as golf, gardening, boating will be on the upswing in coming weeks, we’ll start our coverage with lightning. Of course, the threat of being struck by lightning has been known for centuries. The History Channel recounts a particularly devastating lightning strike that killed 300 people.

The National Weather Service has a very good lightning resource page including actions you should take to protect yourself and others.

As our understanding of how lightning works, the different kinds of lightning and other aspects of the science involved improves, best practices have been refined and much more attention is being given to protecting participants and fans at outdoor sporting events.

NOAA

NOAA

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has developed some guidelines for when to clear the practice field and when to ask fans to leave a stadium. Some institutions have modified these to be even more conservative based on estimates of how long it would take to empty a stadium of fans and where the closest safer shelter is. During the 2014 football season lightning delays and even suspensions were fairly common.

Many states require the installation of lightning alarms at recreational facilities and sports venues. Participants and fans should follow the local guidelines when those alarms are triggered. However, as always, alarms are never a substitute for personal responsibility. There are a variety of smartphone apps that link to databases of recent lightning strikes. They can be a good tool, but be aware that there may be a delay in the process of detecting the strikes, assembling the data and posting in the app. So it is best to assume that the data may be a few minutes old and act accordingly.

As mentioned in the content in the links above, a good rule of thumb is that a 30-second lag between sighting the lightning bolt and hearing the thunder means the bolt was roughly six miles away. And at six miles, you should be headed to a safer place immediately.

Additional resources from eXtension.org are good reads.


first snow 2013 003The wild winter weather continues this week with snow and ice stretching all the way down into the Deep South.  Brutal wind chills have been common in many areas of the north.  Here in Champaign, we’ve had a fresh snow pack and because of that, little wind and clear skies, our overnight temperature fell to 12-below, 10 degrees below the forecast and 10-degrees below the previous record low for this date in late February.  So what’s going on?

Meteorologist Tom Skilling and his staff at WGN-TV in Chicago have been researching the topic and posted a rather extensive article, the link to which is here.

Skilling’s Facebook posts are always informative and, if you are a weather fan, you may want to like him on Facebook even if you’re not from the Chicago area.


precip_types

NOAA graphic

Winter weather certainly has remained in the news this post-Valentine’s Day week. It’s been another major snow event in the Northeast, heavy snow from southern Illinois and Missouri to the south into Kentucky and adjacent states and freezing rain and ice, especially in Georgia, North Carolina and other states in the southeast. Multiple highway fatalities have occurred and over 100,000 people have lost power, mostly due to ice. Bitterly cold temperatures are plunging far into the south on the date this is posted, February 18, 2015.

We’ve written about heavy snow several times and we’ll revisit the topic of how climate change may affect that snowfall, but today we’ll focus on freezing rain, ice storms and “black ice,” all of which are being experienced in parts of the south and southeast this week.

According to the National Weather Service freezing rain and sleet occur when raindrops in a layer of warm air well above the surface fall into a layer of freezing air at and near ground level. Whether the liquid ends up as freezing rain or sleet is determined by the thickness of the layer of freezing air. When that layer is thin, the raindrops don’t have time to freeze so the water freezes on contact with the surface, coating streets, sidewalks, power lines, tree limbs and whatever else is exposed and below freezing. Complicating the situation this week is bitter cold temperatures to follow the snow and ice.

A freezing rain event is escalated to an Ice Storm Warning when ice accumulations of ¼ inch or more are expected. The National Weather Service considers ice storms to be high impact events and if you’ve lived through one or more, you know that to be true. Ice storms can occur across a wide area of the United States and can be very devastating. The single most destructive weather event ever to occur here in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois was the Valentine’s Day ice storm of 1990. The 25th anniversary of the event passed largely unobserved last weekend. Seemingly no one wants to relive that week.

The storm began during a home basketball game at the University of Illinois and ice quickly accumulated. The lights in the Assembly Hall flickered, but stayed on. I was the public address announcer that night and I vividly recall being handed a series of announcements to be read if the main power went off. The final announcement I did read was that game attendees should expect that many traffic signals would be out of commission across town after the game. When I left the Hall I could see the flashes and hear the explosions as electrical transformers failed.

I drove the few blocks to the radio station where I worked at the time. It was operating on generator power. We started to cover the event and things just got worse during the overnight. At one point around 2:00AM I decided to go check on my family and home. I followed a snowplow down a main street as it pushed trees and branches out of the road so emergency vehicles could get through. I turned down my street as limbs were falling behind me and decided to just keep going back to work before the street was completely blocked. Some areas of town were without power for a week. Damage to utility infrastructure, trees, traffic signs and signals and buildings and homes reached into the millions of dollars not counting the loss of productivity and dumpster loads of ruined refrigerated and frozen food.

I relate that account not because it was unusual, but rather because it is typical of major ice events. They can be extremely destructive and expensive.

Finally today I want to mention “black ice.”

Black Ice accident

Black ice can be every bit as dangerous as a heavy snow or ice storm. It is a very thin layer of ice that is nearly transparent. It frequently forms on bridges and overpasses because that pavement temperature may be colder as the cold air circulates above and below the pavement. Black ice often occurs when snow melts during the day and then the water refreezes at night. Or the temperature drops below freezing after a rainy day. Unlike during an ice storm, black ice is a much greater threat to pedestrians and vehicles than to structures. Multi-vehicle accidents are common when the pavement refreezes and emergency rooms are kept busy treating pedestrians who slip and fall.

Ice storm threats include:

 


Post by Michelle Bufkin, AU Agriculture Communications Student/EDEN Community of Practice Social Media Assistant

Last week we discussed what to do to prepare, before a hurricane forms. This week we will discuss what to during a hurricane in your area. Even though there are no hurricanes on either side of the US currently, it is never too early to prepare!

Hurrican 1. Listen to a weather radio or app
The best way to stay informed during a hurricane is to listen to a weather radio. Nowadays there are apps that do the same thing, but I would be wary about using them during a storm because the power may be out and your phone can die quickly when using them. You may ask, why should I listen to the weather radio, I already know a hurricane is in my area. Because hurricanes can cause other natural disasters such as: tornadoes, hail, flooding, and landslides. The best way to be prepared for these is to be informed.

2. Ensure food & water availability
One important thing to have during a hurricane is enough food and water for you and your family. The issue with this, is having food that can be eaten without power. For a list of suggested ready to eat food to have, visit this website. For a safe water supply fill up tubs for water to flush toilets. For safe drinking water fill up large containers, estimate a gallon of water a day per person for a few days. For more water tips visit here.

food safety3. Ensure (cold) food safety
One easy way to keep cold food safe is to turn your refrigerator to its coldest setting and keep the doors closed. If the fridge temperature rises above 40 degrees for more than two hours go ahead and discard any perishable foods such as meat, poultry, leftovers, fish, and eggs. If your freezer rises above 40 degrees for an extended period of time and the food no longer has ice crystals on it throw it out. Never taste food to see if it is still good. Remember this handy tip: when in doubt, throw it out!

4. Evacuation
If you are considering evacuation, evacuate early. It reduces the stress on you and your family from traffic. If an evacuation becomes mandatory, know your evacuation routes and have a plan in place on how to reach them if they become congested. Don’t forget to already have a planned place to evacuate to, and contact them ahead of time.

I hope these tips help you feel more confident in preparing for when a hurricane is approaching your area. Remember: It is never too early to prepare!


Don’t Become a Zombie

By now most of you have heard of the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse blog post. The original post was released nearly two years ago and caused quite an uproar at the time because the post generated enough traffic that CDC’s website crashed.

Photo courtesy of the Center for Disease Control

I for one thought the original blog post and campaign that followed was genius. I will admit I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead and pretty much all horror movies, but I don’t think that was the reason this campaign was so great. It was great because it worked. It actually got people talking about disaster preparedness – which was the whole point. It’s the reason that those of us in the disaster world do what we do.

I digress.

What really got me on this topic today, because at this point I’m sure your thinking I’ve gone a little nutty talking about something that is two years old, was the Canadian Parliament.  What??

Yes, earlier this week during Question Period, Winnipeg Member of Parliament Pat Martin gave a speech about the dangers of a zombie invasion in the United States becoming a “zombie apocalypse” that Canada most certainly need to deal with, because we know “that zombies don’t recognize borders.”

Please take a moment and watch Mr. Martin’s brief speech and the response from Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, here.

Kudos to the CDC for creating a campaign that people are still talking about two years later. Kudos to the Canadian Parliament on having a sense of humor. Kudos to both groups for highlighting disaster preparedness.

Be Prepared. Make a Kit. Photo courtesy of the Center for Disease Control

** Attention Citizens of Michigan, Montana, and New Mexico ** There is no need to worry. Zombies are not real. There are no bodies of the dead rising from their graves and attacking the living. Please do not panic.